One cause of why we accept the concept of non-existence is that it makes sense to say unicorns or dragons don't exist. Magic carpets don't exist. At least here on this planet at this time in history we can deny the direct existence of such things. At least most of us do. We could be wrong. They might be just very rare. But there are certainly contradictory concepts which don't exist or don't make any sense. Square circles don't exist. Fake colors don't exist. Silent noises don't exist. And if there is nothing in the refrigerator, we can say, the milk doesn't exist in the refrigerator. But what we are really saying is that the milk isn't in this location at this point in time, and this kind of statement can be said for just about anything and everything in the universe. There is no molten lava, or sea turtles, or alien monsters in the refrigerator either. However, the absence of the infinity of things that might exist in the space inside the refrigerator doesn't create a black hole of non-existence. We know there is a basic principle considering time and space, that things exist in locations relative to one another. Take away the separate locations in time and everything exists in the same space. As the physicist John Wheeler said, time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.
When we say dragons and unicorns don't exist we are only really saying first that we don't see them, and second that magical things which disobey the laws of physics don't exist. The first statement is obviously just an issue of time and place, since certain dinosaurs resemble dragons well enough to say they once existed, and there is undoubtedly horse-like creatures with single horns living at some place and time somewhere in the universe. Whether or not there are magical unicorns and dragons is quite another issue. Assuming for the sake of argument that magical creatures are purely myth and don't physically exist anywhere in the whole Universe, what have we established? Actually we only are saying that matter and forces of nature are not ever fashioned in a way that makes dragons and unicorns a real physical part of a space-time universe, which certainly doesn't make something non-existent.
Actually when we claim something like unicorns are non-existent we are reversing our usual confusion, by adding qualities of the real nothing into a state of non-existence. In the absence of magical unicorns the universe still exists, so all that we are really saying about unicorns is that imaginary things don't have form like we have form. Square circles don't have form either, because there are rules given to us by form that establish what is meaningful. And things that don't have meaning don't exist.
Nothing isn't a science word
My favorite Gary Larson cartoon expresses in ingenious Larson fashion the absurdity of the notion that something can come from nothing. It portrays two professors talking at a chalkboard, one exclaiming to the other a breakthrough in his equation. "Yes, yes, I know that, Sydney ... Everybody knows that! ... But look: Four wrongs squared, minus two wrongs to the fourth power, divided by this formula, do make a right." the professor states with astonishment.
It is true that nothing does not have a clear designation in math or physics. Like everywhere else, nothing is also a general term in science, with a vague definition, and is always used generally and perhaps presumptuously in ambiguous applications. Never the less, physicists and mathematicians do commonly make conceptual relationships between nothing and other concepts such as zero, the empty set, a vacuum, and empty space. It is for that very reason, that scientists are astonished about how such things behave in contradiction to our expectations of nothing. The notion of a vacuum or empty space having a hidden content, or producing things such as virtual particles, is expressed as one of the great curiosities of physics and nature. The association of nothing with other concepts of void or potential leads us to a fundamental contradiction between old and new thought patterns. Many times I have heard scientists, due to this issue, remark that apparently you CAN get something from nothing, or there is such a thing as a free lunch in physics.
But we shouldn't confuse voids and vacuums with non-existence. A void is a physical phenomenon. Just because a void has singular form, doesn't justify regarding it as non-existence. And considering our language usage, the fact that nothing isn't precisely defined, or the way we define nothing or confuse together a physical void and non-existence, such semantic mistakes of language are precisely what is causing a problem when we deal with cosmic issues.
The first step and the most simple way to solve the problem is by first admitting the distinction, then studying this issue enough to clearly recognize that a nothing of singular form bears no relationship to non-existence. We must cease entirely our mingling of the two ideas, never using the word nothing in any association with non-existence. The term non-existence is far more specific concerning what is actually put into question when we ask, how did something begin? So why then also define and use the word nothing to mean non-existence, when it is also used to refer to the absence of thingness, or zero things, or empty space, which are all physical states that exist. This uniformity issue in nature should certainly not be confused with non-existence. The uniformity of nothing is best identified as a singular type of being. We, in not being specific, and in confusing the two definitions now attributed to the word nothing, are creating our own confusion when we think and talk about such things.
When we attribute qualities such as simple or empty to the word non-existence we are only confusing real attributes of uniformity and even perfect symmetry with a concept which when precisely defined as non-existence is devoid of any such properties.
The physics of non-existence cannot be
The Roman philosopher Titus Lucretius presented this argument in a more practical or physical way. From our position within space, he recognized that space can never end, for what would happen, Lucretius asked, if we throw a dart at the outer edge. "Wherever you may place the ultimate limit of things, I will ask you: 'Well then, what does happen to the dart?' The universe has nothing outside to limit it", wrote Lucretius, recognizing then what we still believe today scientifically, that space or the universe cannot become thin or simply end, beyond which there is a wall of nothing. Much later Einstein showed that space is flexible, and is curved by massive objects, and we now mainly refer the curvature of space-time as gravity. After Einstein it seemed that space might be curved into some sort of loop, such as a figure eight, making the universe finite. But in the last few years scientists have determined that Lucretius appears to have been correct about the infiniteness of space, since the observable universe shows no sign of being curved into any kind of repeating loop. Another example of the principle that nonexistence cannot be and the durability of existence is visible in the first law of thermodynamics which states that energy is neither created nor destroyed.
A simple Non-existence?
There is a deep logic behind our expectations. We have expectations that absolute nothingness is more probable, more simplistic, and more natural, than a world of things. The most common expectation about nothing usually made by scientists is that it is more simple than the universe. Max Tegmark points out that nothingness would have zero information content, whereas a something universe contains information. For this reason, a nothingness seems to require no cause or explanation where in contrast a world of things being physical, being definitive, being diverse in character and quality, all require an explanation or reason for existing.
The astronomer David Darling remarks, "The fact is, nothing could be simpler than nothing -- so why is there something instead? Occam's razor states the simplest answer is most likely the correct one. In the case of whether a universe should exist versus nothing at all, it seems logical that nothing would win out. For this reason nothing seems more probable than any universe. The argument seems logical enough until we realize that the simple quality is actually a feature of the real nothing that exists. Simplicity is a quality of uniformity, or the white canvas. Expecting nothing to be simple is one of the best examples of how we erroneously confuse the qualities of real nothings with non-existence.
The surface of oneness is simple. Non existence is NOT simple, it is not complex, it is not green, or, round, or happy, as by definition it doesn't have any quality. It doesn't have a state. It doesn't have a time. Oneness is a state, which can exist in time, but when referring to non-existence we cannot or at least should not attribute any character to it at all. In fact, we can't attribute any meaning to it at all. If we attribute any qualities to non-existence we are attempting to tag meaningful qualities onto what by definition has no meaning or features whatsoever. We cannot have it both ways. Either nothing has features of being eternal or timeless, simple, empty, plain, quiet, even perfect symmetry, in which case nothing exists. Or nothing is beyond all existential description, in which case it never was simple, and never will be simple.
Another element that makes the universe seem impossible is our expectation that the nothingness that would somehow be (not be?), exist, replace or precede a physical universe of substance, i.e., somethingness, would invariably be timeless. Nothingness would certainly not itself have a beginning. What would nothing be created from? Ordinarily it is nothing that is thought to be the natural default. We almost reason that there is no alternative to nothingness. Nothing would be a timeless unchanging state without beginning and therefore without end. So logically a total nothingness could not ever end and allow something to exist in its place. We can try to imagine nothing spans an eternity or we might entertain the idea that it exists (or doesn't exist) for a non-moment, and that non-moment might be imagined as being infinitely small in duration. So maybe the inability of nothing to be, causes the universe to begin. It almost seems like a universe would necessarily begin immediately after the infinitely small non-moment, except I shouldn't be playing here because all that we are doing is mixing the inability of non-existence to be with the idea of a creation event, which is just a derivative of the central mistake. A non-moment cannot be and never was.
We might imagine that nothingness is the default state before the big bang, except nothingness has an innate fault in it. That fault allows there to be a fluctuation in the void, and somethingness erupts from nothing. We are actually nearing the truth here but still mincing words, since a nothing which is originally faulty isn't really a nothing. By definition, a true nothing doesn't cause anything to exist and has no power or content to change its designation as the default. What is there to cause change in a timeless nonexistent nothing? And so if the default state of nature is nothing, it would always be so, not actually for a duration of time since there would not be a duration of time either.
In questioning how it is possible that the universe exists, we are led to consider the question of why there is something and not nothing. And that very first step is a mistake. A nothing that doesn't exist cannot fluctuate, it cannot fracture, because by definition there is nothing to produce the damage. In complete absence of a universe there is no time or change or first cause. A first cause certainly would not be a part of nothingness, it would instead have to be found in the first stages of the universe. So when we imagine an absolute nothingness as a possibility, as the default, as if nothing somehow proceeded the universe, we deny any possibility of our present existence. That is the dubious but unquestionable fact that makes the universe seem like a miracle, when the universe should seem as if it is inevitable.
Actually I still remember discovering the paradox that something cannot come from nothing in boyhood, and walking around for several weeks fully convinced that the universe could not possibly exist. As my own existence persisted, I finally relented to the idea that something had somehow cheated its way past nothing. And a lot of people make that erroneous conclusion. Literally everyone recognizes the simple logic that something cannot come from nothing, and yet in the face of our own existence and the unwavering presence of the universe, and in the absence of any other explanation, we conclude that by some fluke chance it must have happened somehow. The impossible happened. Its actually a terribly damaging form of surrender, not merely that it is mental motion in the wrong direction, which leads to a dead end, but also because it plants a seed in our mind that our internal logic is out of synch with the universe, it even places into question a sensible reality, and just consider for a moment how damaging it is to our growth to place into question our personal ability to reason.
The term non-existence denies, and in so doing borrows meaning, in a way that no other concept or idea attempts to deny or borrow meaning, since the borrowing concept by definition has no meaning itself. Any other case of borrowed meaning refers to something not denied. If something is non-white, we know the borrowing color is some other, at minimum, off-white color. The word not denies and borrows meaning simultaneously. If we say a temperature is not cold, the reference is to being greater than cold, so something is warm or just right, or perhaps its not cold, but extremely cold. The meaning of not-cold has been borrowed from the meaning of cold. If we refer to not-above, not-old, not-clear, with each word, all that is being referred to has meaning independent of the borrowing terms of above, old, and clear. But the term non-existence does not refer to anything else of meaning. The word existence cannot lend any positive meaning to the word non-existence. No other concept needs to, or tries to, attempt this impossibility.
The word nonexistence tries to specify the absence of existence, and seems to work because all other such denials accomplish their task. It seems to work because in physical reality when some thing doesn't exist there is indeed a void in its place, but the void left behind when we say there is nothing in the refrigerator is the real nothing, and not a non-existence.
As step further is to try to imagine that there is no existence, no universe, to borrow meaning from. Would non-existence then have meaning? Without the meaning given the word existence, the term non-existence fails no less visibly than before. The term non-existence attempts to give meaning to what has no meaning independently. And thus the argument here is that although non-existence might seem to refer to some aspect worthy of a word, some aspect (not of reality, meaning, or existence) that is perhaps difficult to logically identify, in actuality, the truth is that we are playing a game of words in using the term. Its not merely that we cannot speak of the unreal, but rather the unreal isn't worthy of a word. The unreal doesn't exist because meaninglessness doesn't exist.
And what it all comes down to is this. In a world of meaning, we can invent a word to suggest non-meaning, but if the only way that we can infer non-meaning, is through the use of meaning, then we are just playing a trick on ourselves. The use of meaning, cannot give meaning to non-meaning. In other words, given that there is meaning, then all there is, and ever will be, and ever could be, is meaning. There is no alternative. All there is, and ever could be, is existence. The question being asked, how did something come from non-existence, is not a meaningful question. It is just an erroneous thought pattern in our heads that eventually we will erase as we realize being is the default without any alternative.
The strange exhilarating paradox visible here can be thought about for a long time, and after every avenue is explored and every escape route is attempted without success, it becomes apparent that the term non-existence is a conceptual mistake. As a result we wonder why we exist instead of nothing at all, because our thoughts default to a vague understanding of nothing and non-existence, and we fail to recognize that a universe has to exist, for nothing at all is not really an alternative, since non-existence cannot be. In a mindful state, non-existence should seem to us to be absolutely impossible, and being should seem to us to be absolutely inevitable and natural.
When we say there is nothing here or over there, what we really are identifying is that there in time there is only a oneness. That oneness seems to us to be a nothing, but that is one of our mistaken expectations made from our constant living in a world of many things. Objects are just asymmetries that break down to positives and negatives. They are just forms which in every case are in some way imperfect, incomplete, and imbalanced. When all forms are unified they become a whole form, and the individual forms are lost, given to the whole form, which we see as being formless, or neutral, because we only see the many forms, things, objects, imbalances, as what constructs physical reality. And so we see the uniformity, the wholeness, and perfect symmetry of empty space as being nothing in comparison. We simply are not accustomed to relating to at any part of the world when it is unified and one.
It is a wonderful realization really, to be aware that the universe always has been, and shall always be. With a little work, it is possible to make what I call the switch and see the space we inhabit as full. It is possible to know that nothingness is merely something not plural or dualistic, and so see the world of things as less than the whole, rather than the normal mindset of seeing things as magically arisen above nothing. And it certainly makes sense then to continue onward, to wonder about the nature of eternity, and to wonder about the shape of a universe that has always existed.
Personally, I was very surprised to find that the inevitability of being is a very old discovery, it was realized over two thousand years ago by a man named Parmenides. Parmenides taught this principle to his friend and student Zeno, and it is very possible that Parmenides taught it to a young Socrates, who was only about twenty years old when he first met Parmenides. I suppose Parmenides was far ahead of his time when he taught the unity of being based upon this principle.
Its seems very odd to me that this idea is there in our past, our history, discovered and spoken, studied occasionally at Universities, and yet its not commonly passed on, at very least as a valid solution. Especially since it is really the only valid solution discovered to date.
There has never been a non-existence in the past, as there would be no quality to sustain a non something in time, and thus non-existence could not be even for an infinitely small moment. Nor is it possible that all existence ends in the future, because, as simple as it can be said, being has no alternative. This is fundamentally why we exist. It is the ground of timelessness. The existence of a universe is not unlikely as it sometimes seems to us. The most fundamental aspect of nature, the foundation of reality, is the basic principle that existence is inevitable. The Universe is what exists without anything being created.
One of my favorite quotes is from John Archibald Wheeler, an American physicist at Princeton University, who has been saying for many years, "To my mind there must be at the bottom of it all not an utterly simple equation but an utterly simple idea, and to me that idea when we finally discover it will be so compelling, so inevitable, so beautiful, that we will all say to each other, oh how could it have been otherwise."
Of course there must be some sort of reason or simple idea that explains why we exist, and there is possibly a very simple or a very complex reason for the laws that govern the universe. Wheeler understands, from what we know of nature and reality, such equations and principles do not themselves create. They have a great power, a power to describe, to reflect what is, and be true, and just maybe conscious ideas can influence the world in an unseen way, but the Universe, existence itself, is beyond all great powers.
So in summary, remember that non-existence cannot be. The nothings we observe are just singularities that seem formless in comparison to all the forms we observe. We can see formlessness as no (zero) things, from the mode of seeing the Universe as made of many things, or we can see formlessness as the ultimate everything, in which case everything else is within that whole and so less than the whole. Both full and empty perspectives are valid. Neither is an illusion. There has to be form or many things in order for all the parts to sum into the unified whole. But we should wonder if one mode is primary reality and one mode is a secondary reality. Not hard to figure out which is which.
The principle that Non-existence cannot be, and therefore existence has always been isn't a formula, or an equation, or a first cause. It doesn't create the universe. It doesn't even relate to cause and effect. It is simply a mental recognition about nature, one which is enlightening as it dissolves our seemingly innate expectations that the universe somehow began in the past. Suddenly in knowing this, the notion disappears that there is some alternative to a universe being here.
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